Cooking with kids: How to build confidence

Young girl arranging vegetables on a baking tray

One of the biggest chores we face as parents is the constant supply of meals and snacks, and the inevitable clean up that needs to happen afterward. The idea that your children can start to help with this repetitive chore is enticing to us all. So how do we get our kids to become competent and able mini-Jamie Olivers?

Involving kids in cooking at (almost) all ages

All kids, from toddlers onwards, can be involved in food preparation and food clean up. Not only does it help create competent future cooks, but it is more likely to help encourage them to eat new foods and be less ‘fussy’.

By inviting your child into the kitchen and granting them a role, this fosters a sense of responsibility, accomplishment, and enjoyment in the kitchen. Children are then more likely to willingly engage and discover the joy of food.

Young toddler boy drizzles olive oil into salad bowl with the help of dad

Start with the basics

Like adults, building confidence in the kitchen for kids begins with mastering the basics. Toddlers can be involved in choosing fruit and vegetables at the shops, helping to unpack the groceries, washing fruit and vegetables, or measuring and stirring dishes.  These are all fun ways to start everyday tasks that enable toddlers to be involved in touching and thinking about food in a fun way.  Older kids can be involved in preparing simple dishes that they enjoy eating and are simple to create.

Preparing savoury dish basics – such as jacket potatoes, boiled eggs, toast or baked beans – helps kids learn how to use kitchen equipment safely and helps them navigate basic tasks like breaking eggs, opening cans or using knives for spreading.  These small victories help the kitchen to be a fun place worth exploring, which lays the foundation for bigger kitchen adventures and sets them on the road to being able to use these skills for more complex dishes later.

Choose simple recipes

Starting to put simple recipes together not only helps kids become more confident in the kitchen but can support them in reading/literacy skills and maths (especially fractions in baking!).  Begin with recipes kids enjoy eating and that are simple to create. The best choices have only a few steps and use age-appropriate kitchen equipment. Ideas suitable for kids from primary school age onwards include ready-made pizza bases ready for toppings, boxed cake mixes, porridge, toasted sandwiches, pancakes or waffles, pesto pasta, two-minute noodles and omelettes.

Young boy decorates his own pizza with cheese, tomato and meat

Most kids will need help with using hot kitchen equipment (oven, stove top, waffle/sandwich maker etc) in the beginning, but as they become more confident, they will be able to do more of this on their own (with supervision).  Creating a dish from the recipe stages through to enjoying the food will build kitchen confidence in your kids and can help reduce their reliance on packaged snack foods, which can also help with budgeting. 

As their confidence grows, so too can the number of steps in each recipe, and the types of foods they prepare.

Other non-cook ways to get kids into the kitchen can be to encourage them to take charge of lunchbox packing once a week, from planning to shopping, packing, preparing, and cleaning up. This will build their confidence and independence and gives you more time back in your day, and headspace to not have to think about that particular meal or snack.

Encourage creative expression

As kids become teenagers, they start to crave independence from their parents in many ways, and food can be no different. Supporting them to have independence in the kitchen can save you time and reduce reliance on parents to provide healthy evening meals.

Letting teenagers choose a weekly meal they would like to make, shop for the ingredients and prepare the dish helps them learn meal planning and budgeting, all essential skills to know. Making a complete meal will not be daunting to them if they have mastered basic recipe creation. However, be warned, you will also need to allow them to experiment! This might mean different toppings, mix-ins or sides, or it might mean serving a dish in a different way. Never fear, you get an evening meal out of it, and you can relax as they create a culinary creation that may (or may not) become a staple in their diet for the rest of their adult lives!

Teenage boy cooks a stir fry independently in the kitchen

Be prepared for some mess, experimentation and quality time spent together, regardless of their age. Food brings cultures, generations and families together and sharing the preparation of food can create enjoyable memories to share. 

Check out our guide below for some ideas on age-appropriate tasks.

Ages 3-5Ages 6-7Ages 8-12Ages 13 and up
Mix ingredientsPeel vegetablesCutting food with small knifeMake dinner
Wash fruit and veggiesCrack an eggMake their school lunchUse sharp knives
Press buttonsJuice lemons and limesThread food onto skewerBake on their own
Knead doughSet the tableWash and put away dishesFind a new recipe to try
Tear lettuce leavesSift flourCook with you at the stoveClean the kitchen
Pick herbs off the stemPreheat the ovenUnload groceriesPick herbs for the meal

Blog produced in conjunction with Queensland Association of School Tuckshops.